Touchpad & Synaptics issues in Linux Mint - Solution


Updated: June 19, 2015

Buying new hardware is always a delightful occasion. One, you're getting new stuff, and two, you can debug all sorts of curious and weird problems, and then share them with the world. For me, this happened with the G50 machine and a recent review attempt of Linux Mint 17.1 Rebecca KDE. In my case, the touchpad was working, but it could not be configured. You might be facing the same problem.

The touchpad settings menu is grayed out, the GUI says Synaptics driver is not loaded (or is not used), and if you try a few fancy tricks from the command line, then you will get the following complaint: Couldn't find synaptics properties. No synaptics driver loaded? All of these point to a silly problem with the touchpad configuration, and it can really get annoying. So let's fix it, shall we.

Problem

Anyhow, let's recap briefly. Touchpad works, no way to configure it. You will see a red warning at the top of the Touchpad control module, when you launch it from the Settings menu. The options are all grayed out, and you cannot make any modifications, which results in accidental clicks and much frustration.

Touchpad is not configurable

No synaptics driver

Solution

If you search for this problem online, you will find a hundred different suggestions, which include but are not limited to: installing various synaptics packages from the repositories; installing new software like syndaemon and tpconfig; using synclient from the command line; creating your own configuration file for Xorg and placing it under /etc/X11/xorg.conf.d, which will render your desktop unusable really; fiddling with kernel modules; and many other lovely pieces of advices, none of which will solve the issue.

The real and simple and relatively safe fix is just to install a new kernel. At the moment, Rebecca is using the 3.13 kernel from the Trusty LTS line, and you want the newer 3.16 kernel, which comes with better hardware support. This is a really good option, because you can always switch into a different kernel in the GRUB menu, should anything not to be your liking. There's no harm to your system, and you do not need to mess with configuration files and system options, which you might not fully understand.

To wit, fire up the update manager in Rebecca (KDE). Under View, click Linux Kernels. This will open a menu, allowing to choose from a long list of available kernel versions, including any notes and warnings on stability. Choose the latest kernel and install it. In our case, this is 3.16.0-31.

Select new kernel

Confirm your selection and wait a few moments for the kernel to install.

Install new kernel

Reboot. At this point, you should be able to open the Touchpad settings menu, and it will work. Now you can tweak the Touchpad behavior to your liking. For instance, you might want to turn taps off, to avoid accidental mouse clicks while typing. Bob's your uncle.

Touchpad fixed

Conclusion

There you go. Simple solutions are always the best option, and you should try them first. Given the option to fiddle with configuration files and rules and whatnot and the hassle-free alternative of installing tested software from the official repositories, you should always opt for the one with fewer changes, and even more importantly, reversible changes. In this case, the kernel update is a very safe choice. You can always roll back.

Hopefully, this little guide has saved you some bacon, and maybe even fried it a little, so it's even tastier than before. Silly analogies aside, you've learned another valuable lesson in the ways of Linux, and that is, avoid tweaking too much. It's rather fun, but ultimately pointless. And if drivers do not really work, no amount of crazy hacking will really help. There you go. Another mystery resolved. Mr. Sherlock shall now retire.

Cheers.

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